There we were again, engaged in another yelling match. It would surely lead to hurt feelings, mom shame, and possibly tears. But I just couldn't help myself, and neither could my 8 year old. As two very headstrong individuals, these battles have been raging since he was old enough to realize he had an ounce of power to say no. It used to be worse, much worse, because toddlers, and also because I was far less healed back then. But it still happens far more often than I'd like to admit.
Before I became a mother I had these grand plans that I'd be a gentle, hippy dippy type mother. I had no desire to co-sleep (joke's on me there!) but I didn't want to spank, or be super strict, or be a yeller, and I didn't want to be the reason my children needed therapy. I thought I'd be nurturing and talk about feelings, and all that warm fuzzy stuff. And we do sometimes. My parents were FAR from abusive. They were honestly pretty great parents most of the time, and their shortcomings were simply because they were doing the best they could with what knowledge and emotional intelligence that they had at the time. But I do remember one time being genuinely scared,
because I'd just pushed too far and they were only human. I didn't ever want to cause my children to feel that fear. And then I became a mom.
The first few years of motherhood were pretty rough. Once my son was old enough to defy me, it was incredibly triggering to my unhealed self. Lots of therapy, getting to the root of my issues, forgiving myself, learning to move past painful trauma, all helped me to be a more present and much calmer mom. When things were good, or at least decent, I was pretty good at keeping my cool. I give choices, make eye contact, touch, etc, in order to get him to listen. Most of the time that works. But not always. And in times of high stress (like the past year and a half of our lives - between being pregnant, moving states, having a baby, and starting homeschool), my anxiety would rear it's ugly head and "mean mommy" would come out to YELL.
Remembering to be intentional with all those things is super helpful, but I want to introduce you to another tool that came out of nowhere and has been extremely helpful in pulling me back into my body (if you suffer from anxiety attacks you know that it can almost feel like an out of body experience at times). We've worked with a therapist for our 8 year old since he was 4 for ADHD. Since moving and having the baby things have been understandably difficult for our oldest. So we've been working on his random explosive temper.
The therapist told us to start asking him to identify his feelings. Not just in those negative situations but in all different circumstances. When we catch him smiling, if he looks sad, or thoughtful, or yes, angry. But after a few days, something unexpected happened! The next time I started yelling, he got in front of me, put up his hands to stop me from stomping around (because yes, sometimes I act like a toddler), and asked me how I was feeling! It was so unexpected that it made me stop in my emotional tracks. It really made me think. Underneath the anger (which is a secondary emotion) what was really going on? Almost immediately I knew. I felt unheard, ignored, unimportant. I felt like I didn't matter to someone who was supposed to love me. I knew where it came from, but it wasn't fair to take it out on this little boy who I know really does love me lots.
Since then, this has happened a few more times, not just when I start yelling at him, but when I've gotten in arguments with my husband too, and our son will intervene to get me to look at my feelings. Every time, it's the same thing underneath. So clearly I have some work to do in that area still, which I'm happy to say I'm working on now. He did it to my husband today too, and it was interesting to see that what was coming up for him also came from his childhood. It seems that maybe a lot of us are walking around as unhealed little kids when we get triggered.
So, I'd like to challenge you to do this same thing. When you catch your kids displaying emotions, ask them to name the emotions. And if they are old enough, teach them to ask you too. Maybe even write the question on a sticky note and put it on your mirror, and theirs, so you start to consciously acknowledge your feelings. Because once you start to see those emotions, you can usually see where they are coming from, and then you know what areas you need to work on to heal yourself and make yourself whole. And that's the goal isn't it? To be whole and to raise kids who are whole too.
I hope this tool helps you to tune in to your emotions and takes a little bit of stress out of your days. If you'd like more tips for managing anxiety, click here to get my anxiety guide. And make sure you are part of the Working Moms Overcoming Anxiety group on Facebook, where we have ongoing trainings to help you in all areas of your life.
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